Covid vaccination

France launches Covid vaccine production, wariness over AstraZeneca increases

Production of the Covid vaccine runs night and day at the BioNTech site in Marburg, Germany.
Production of the Covid vaccine runs night and day at the BioNTech site in Marburg, Germany. Thomas Lohnes AFP

France begins production of Covid-19 vaccines this week at several of its manufacturing sites and opens a “vaccinodrome” at the Stade de France on Tuesday. But wariness over the safety of AstraZeneca appears to be increasing.

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France will produce Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at five sites.

On Wednesday, Delpharm will begin manufacturing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at its plant in Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre, west of Paris. It's expected to produce tens of millions of doses.

Production of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine, meanwhile, is to begin at the Recipharm facility in the Loire Valley.

The facilities will not make the vaccines but support their formulation, doing the filling and finishing, checking and freezing.

Further down the line, subject to authorisation, Farva  is set to take care of the fill & finish of Germany’s CurVac vaccine at its site in Pau in the Pyrenees and could provide up to two million doses per month.

And France’s Sanofi laboratory, which abandoned its clinical trials for the 100% Made in France vaccine ARN Messager, is expected to start packaging the Johnson&Johnson vaccine near Lyon from 19 April.

The vaccines will then be distributed throughout the European Union.

“France is on the point of tipping over into massive vaccine production,” Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, told Le Parisien daily on Sunday.

Racing ahead

France, and Europe in general, has been criticised for its tardy and slow vaccine rollout compared to the U.S., Israel and UK.

The World Health Organisation’s director for Europe recently described Europe’s vaccine rollout as “unacceptably slow” given the “worrying” surge in the European coronavirus infection rate.

EU leaders recently agreed to increase vaccine production within the bloc, after British-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca annunced it would be able to deliver only 100 million of the promised 300 million doses.

Breton, who heads up Europe’s vaccine production task force, said he believed herd immunity among the EU’s 446m-population could now be reached by mid-July.

“800 million doses will be available in the second semester,” he said, “Europe will be the continent producing the most vaccines by the end of the year.”

Vaccinodromes

Meanwhile, after a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, the latest official figures show that 9,109,776 people in France have now received their first jab with 3,091,225 having received both doses (4.61 percent of the population).

France is on target to administer 10 million first injections by mid-April and is opening massive army-run centres including a “vaccinodrome” which opens at the Stade de France, north of Paris, on Tuesday 6 April.

At one such centre in the Yvelines, west of Paris, more than 1,600 people received a jab of either the Pfizer/BioTech or Moderna vaccines last Wednesday. 

But there appears to be increasing wariness over the AstraZeneca vaccine following concerns over possible links to blood clotting.

AstraZeneca concerns

Hundreds of vaccination appointments were cancelled in Calais and surrounding areas over the weekend after vaccine centres used up their Pfizer supplies and began proposing the AstraZeneca jab.

Only 200 of the 750 available AstraZeneca doses were administered and several centres closed early.

 “This was one of the last weekends to provide a first AstraZeneca jab, and from next week we’ll be doing the boosters,” vaccine coordinator Dr Thierry Mraovic told local radio on Monday.

“But people are wary after all the negative communication around this vaccine, they believe it’s dangerous,” he said.

Benefits outweigh risks

On Friday the French Medicines Agency (ANSM) reported that since the start of the vaccination campaign, there had been twelve cases, including four deaths of rare thromboses in people having received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It described the blood clots as “highly untypical”.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week that “a causal link with the vaccine is not proven but is possible, and further analysis is continuing”.

The EMA is scheduled to meeting this week to discuss the issue.

“The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” it said in a statement on 31 March.

France continues to struggle to contain the spread of Covid-19 and its more recent, highly contagious, variants. 5,300 people are currently in intensive care with Covid-related conditions, threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

 

 

 

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